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Hackers Creating Merchant
Credit Card System Failures?

By Ted Twietmeyer

There is a quiet battle going on in the merchant world. Merchants around the country are quietly having problems with processing credit cards.

One of the companies hit with this is American Express. One family member was in a big box store purchasing $125 in merchandise. Her card was not declined, but a message appeared on the cashier's terminal that the purchase could not be made at this time. it alarmed the store staff so much that they called the store manager to the register - they were deeply concerned their computer system was malfunctioning. In this particularly large store, seeing a store manager is a rare thing indeed.

She drove home deeply concerned her account had been hacked. Having a perfect payment record since she opened her gold card account in 2011, she went online and logged on the American Express website. She used Amex's "Check Spending Ability" web function which allows you to see what purchases the card company will approve before doing so. It showed her purchase was approved, and there were no unknown charges were listed on her account.

I have personally has this problem at a nice hotel restaurant with my American Express card a few months ago. Card was not declined, but the card terminal did nothing when the card was swiped. It was traced to a computer which controlled the restaurant's point of sale terminals and food ordering system. This problem may have been caused by caused by a DSL communications error.  Minutes later after a re-boot of the system was performed, that same purchase went through with the same card.

This type of fault also occurred recently at a grocery store checkout. It happened so frequently the cashier stated, "Oh, there it goes again. This happens all the time." It was a similar fault; in this case the system did not respond at all.

I had yet another problem with Amex a few months ago. Not while making a purchase, but when I went on-line to pay my bill. I had to call them on the phone to pay it.

These problems are not limited to just one card company. Compare these raw google results*:

SEARCH TEXT                          HITS
american express system down = 104 million hits
visa system down = 188 million hits
mastercard system down = 46.6 million hits

It's entirely possible that not all these faults may be hardware or software failures. Some may be the efforts of hackers to create denial of service problems. Why would this be the cause? One of the common symptoms of any overloaded computer (or processor) is slow response or no response to input queries.

Ted Twietmeyer

* This is only a rough comparison of card companies, which may or may not have unrelated search results.


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